BY JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS
Barbara Goodknight, of Tyler, rolled out of bed bright and early Saturday with a gleam in her eye and a bounce in her step.
At first glance, it was evident she was a woman on a mission.
“I want to lose some weight,” she declared.
Ms. Goodknight was among an estimated 2,000 East Texans who stepped up to the scales Saturday at Bergfeld Park to start a new chapter in their lives, one of improved fitness and healthy living.
The efforts were part of the newly announced “Lighten Up East Texas” regional health initiative, an offshoot of Fit City Challenge.
“I had been a part of Fit City before, but I missed a couple of weigh-ins and just sort of stopped,” Ms. Goodknight said, found standing in a line of people that stretched across the park. “They have so many articles in the paper and a lot of information, so I decided to try again. … I think they (Fit City organizers) really got a lot of people's attention this time.”
About a third of Tyler and Smith County children are considered obese and the numbers are expected to rise without drastic intervention, George Roberts, Northeast Texas Public Health District Chief Executive Officer, said.
“We're hoping people make changes in their lives,” Roberts said, citing new evidence that today's children, starting with those born in 2000, are not expected to live as long as their parents, due to poor eating habits and nutrition.
“All of us in East Texas are in this together,” co-organizer Dave Berry, Tyler Morning Telegraph editor, said. “Today, in this park, we are making a statement that we can take charge of our health.”
Individuals and teams are invited to participate in the Lighten Up East Texas initiative, which challenges people to lose at least 5 percent of their body weight.
To enter, participants weigh in and follow a fitness program of their choosing. Saturday was the first weigh-in and additional opportunities planned for the coming weeks.
For every 5 percent they shed by May, their name will be entered a maximum of four times into a drawing for a chance to win the grand prize: a 2013 Dodge Dart from Allen Samuels Dodge, officials said.
“This car is really zippy and gets great gas mileage,” Michael Coyne, Allen Samuels e-commerce manager. “It's a great car, packed with technology.”
Travel Masters also is offering a Flexible Passport Dream Vacation, worth $5,000, sponsored by trip expert Sharon Howell.
The car and trip giveaways are set for May during the final weigh in, officials said. Other incentives include chances to win fitness packages, hotel stays and Brookshire's gift cards. About $1,000 in cards was given away Saturday; another $5,000 is slated for May.
“We're taking Fit City Challenge regional,” Fit City supporter Dana Hughey, KYTX CBS19, said. “We have 36 counties joining us and who doesn't like a good challenge?”
Similar wellness events were held Saturday in both Nacogdoches and Henderson, officials said.
Local officials seemed pleased with the enthusiasm.
“Pulling up here and seeing a line of people waiting to sign up, it was phenomenal,” Mayor Barbara Bass said. “This is proof that Fit City Tyler is working and we're on the right track.”
Bandy Phillips, an employee of Trinity Mother Frances Hospital, was another participant willing to trade a little extra sleep Saturday for a chance at a few goodies.
She was among the first in line to receive a free T-shirt from Lighthouse Graphics for her efforts.
“I wanted to get in and weigh in before it got too crowded,” she said with a grin.
Some participants, including interim Tyler Independent School District Superintendent Gary Mooring, didn't seem the least bit fazed by the idea of weighing in public.
His wife, Kathy Mooring, not so much, but she was a good sport.
“I'm supportive,” she said with a grin, “Whatever it takes.”
Mooring, one of the “celebrity” participants, said good nutrition is critical for good learning.
To aid in the efforts, the school district is promoting 5-2-1-0, a program endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics that stresses daily, five servings of fruits and vegetables, two hours or less of screen time, at least one hour of physical activity and zero sweetened beverages.
Other celebrity participants backing the fitness initiative include: Tyler Economic Development Council President Tom Mullins, Tyler City Councilman Martin Heines, East Texas Food Bank Executive Director Dennis Cullinane, Brookshire Consumer Nutrition Specialist Brooke Buffington and Tyler Morning Telegraph Publisher Nelson Clyde.
Tyler Police Chief Gary Swindle and Fire Chief Tim Johnson also joined the weight loss efforts, announcing the start of a little friendly fitness competition between the two departments.
About 35 booths were available Saturday, offering beneficial health strategies, demonstrations and free snacks.
Platinum level sponsors include Brookshire's, Allen Samuels Dodge, Lighthouse Graphics, Northeast Texas Public Health District, city of Tyler and Tyler Morning Telegraph.
Other major sponsors include Travel Masters, Tyler Independent School District, Texas Spine and Joint Hospital, KYTX CBS 19, R.W. Fair Foundation, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics, East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, Ingersoll Rand, AT&T, East Texas Food Bank, Goodwill, PECAT – “Live Tobacco Free,” Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, St. Paul Children's Foundation, Pure Body Nutrition and Holiday Inn.
For more details on contest rules, eligibility and additional weigh-in dates, visit www.lightenupeasttexas.com.